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Calling all meat eaters: how to lose weight without giving up your favorite filet

A surprising strategy that can help with weight loss is reducing red meat consumption. Many studies have found that vegetarians and vegans tend to have an overall lower body mass compared to those who eat meat. Lower body mass can be attributed to the vegan/ vegetarian diets being lower in saturated fat and higher in fiber. Another study done in Europe found that eating processed meat is linked with weight gain due to processed red meat being high in saturated fat as well as calories. The authors suggest that eating less meat in our daily diets can help to promote weight loss.

In addition to weight loss, reduced meat consumption is associated with other health benefits as well. Studies done at Harvard have shown that consumption of processed red meat is associated with an increased risk of type two diabetes as well as an increased risk of heart disease, elevated cholesterol, digestive issues and increased risk of colorectal cancers.” Reducing intake of processed red meats can in turn reduce the risk of these health issues.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which is a part of the World Health Organization, identifies causes of cancer and has the most widely used system to determine whether or not a substance causes cancer. This group evaluates the “cancer-causing potential” of something and places it into one of these groups:

  • Group 1: Carcinogenic to humans

  • Group 2: Probably carcinogenic to humans

  • Group 2B: Possibly carcinogenic to humans

  • Group 3: Unclassifiable as to carcinogenicity in humans

  • Group 4: Probably not carcinogenic to humans

Why is this important? Along with tobacco smoking and asbestos, processed red meat was classified as a Group 1 carcinogen in humans. Now, this does not mean that eating a steak or two every single week will give you cancer. In fact red meat eaten in moderation may be beneficial as it is high in protein and nutrients such as iron and vitamin B3. The quality of the red meat is key. Try to minimize processed meats, and look for grass-fed, organic varieties whenever possible.

So how much red meat should you be eating? Mary Ellen Phipps, a wellness dietitian at MD Anderson says that you should try to limit your consumption of red meat to 18 ounces or less each week.

There are also several genes related to body weight and saturated fatty acids. If you carry these variants you might find that decreasing your intake of fats found in meats and full fat dairy can help with weight loss. Most studies do not examine this relationship but a genetic analysis can reveal if you carry these variants.

Not ready or interested in going full vegetarian or vegan? Here are some other ways you can lower your red meat consumption:

  • Try to incorporate more plant-based proteins into your diet such as beans, nuts, and seeds. Half a cup of beans contains the same amount of protein as an ounce of broiled steak. Nuts and seeds are also great sources of heart healthy fats.

  • Don’t make meat the main focus of your meal. According to the New American Plate model, two-thirds of your plate should be filled with plant foods like vegetables, fruits and grains and the rest with lean protein. Treat meat more as a condiment instead of the main attraction.

  • Try to dedicate one day a week to not eating meat: Meatless Mondays are a great way to lower your red meat consumption without completely cutting it out of your diet!

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